Second Companies 101
Hank Bamberger (second from right) performing Arden Court with Taylor 2 (by Paul B. Goode)
You have your heart set on dancing with Boston Ballet. You’ve done your research, so you know there’s also a second company: Boston Ballet II. But do you know what it actually means to be in a second company? And what are the odds that dancing with it will eventually land you a position in the main company?
“A second company can be a wonderful bridge between your schooling and your life as a professional,” says Boston Ballet assistant artistic director Russell Kaiser, who oversees BBII in conjunction with Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “We view BBII as an opportunity to give dancers the tools they need, in terms of maturity, technique and artistry, to help them succeed.”
Many ballet and modern companies offer second company opportunities for dancers who aren’t ready for the main company. While every second company is different, there are some overall things you need to know about the experience. Read on to find out if a second company is right for you.
What is a second company?
A second company is a small dance company—often six to 12 performers—affiliated with a professional company. Most second companies hire dancers between ages 16 and 23. The contract length varies, but it’s usually one to three years.
How do I get into a second company?
Generally, you’ll audition. In some cases, that means going to the main company audition and being asked to join the second company instead. In other cases, the second company holds an audition of its own. Hank Bamberger, a dancer with Taylor 2, auditioned when the Taylor organization had two openings for male dancers—one with Paul Taylor Dance Company and one with T2.
Ailey II director Troy Powell leading a class (by Joe Epstien)
Some second companies prefer to hire dancers from their affiliated schools. Ailey II has a strong tradition of selecting dancers from The Ailey School. “Our audition is for students of the school,” explains Troy Powell, Ailey II’s artistic director, “but we might also invite someone we saw at a main company audition or who we’ve worked with in the past who we think might be a good fit.”
Still other companies use their summer intensive as an audition. “Ballet Austin rarely hires from open cattle-call auditions,” says Nicole Voris, a dancer with Ballet Austin II. “If they’re interested, they’ll invite you to the summer program so they can get to know you as a dancer. They offer second company contracts after that.”
What performance opportunities will I have?
One of the perks of being in a second company is getting performance experience. You may get to rehearse and perform alongside the main company, but many second companies also perform their own repertoire—which means you might be involved in the creation of new works, too. “At BAII we have our own rep, so we’re working one-on-one with choreographers on premieres,” Voris says. “For me, it’s been great to get experience dancing lead roles, as well as helping to develop choreography.”
A lot of second companies also have extensive outreach efforts. On top of its two annual tours and its NYC season, Ailey II does many lecture-demonstrations and informal performances in local schools. With T2, Bamberger has danced in retirement homes, children’s hospitals and other unconventional settings—as well as on major stages around the world.
Ballet Austin II's Nicole Voris (by Tony Spielberg)
Will I get promoted into the main company?
Working with the second company allows the organization to see how you mesh with the directors, choreographers and other dancers. If you work hard and show you’re right for the job, you have a good chance of realizing your main company dreams. Voris says most of Ballet Austin’s dancers came through BAII; Kaiser estimates 35 percent of Boston Ballet’s dancers came through BBII. The biggest variable you have to worry about is whether there’s a main company contract available when your tenure with the second company is up.
Is it a paid job?
Sometimes. You might get a salary that’s enough to live on. You might get a weekly stipend. You might be paid per performance. But at some organizations, the second company is a pre-professional program, rather than a paying gig. In that case, you might actually have to pay tuition.
So what will I gain from being in a second company?
Because second companies are usually small, you’ll get a lot of one-on-one attention and feedback. You’ll be able to observe seasoned performers from the main company in classes and rehearsals. And you’ll get experience learning choreography and performing it on stages of all sizes.
Voris credits her time with BAII with helping her gain confidence, while Bamberger says T2 has helped him focus on his craft. “I’ve gotten to break down the Taylor style, to learn the essence of the movement,” he says.
Even if you aren’t ultimately offered a main company contract, you’ll have picked up valuable skills. “BBII dancers who don’t turn out to be the right fit for Boston Ballet often go on to great professional careers,” Kaiser says. “A main company can be a ‘sink or swim’ environment. A second company can help you fine-tune your skills, so you’re ready to jump in.”
SUCCESS STORIES: Words of wisdom from three dancers who made the jump from second company to main company
(by Amitava Parkar)
Katharine Precourt, First soloist, Houston Ballet
“During my two years with Houston Ballet II, my most valuable experience was the opportunity to work with the main company, both as an understudy and performing in full-length ballets. A second company is ideal preparation for what to expect when you join a professional company, and makes the transition from school to work much easier.”
(by Michael S. Levine)
Susan Gartell, Artist, Milwaukee Ballet
“Being in Milwaukee Ballet II was important for me in part because I didn’t grow up at a school attached to a company. In MBII, there was a lot of interaction with the main company, so I got advice and insight into the professional world. Plus, the intensity of the training we got in MBII helped get me technically ready to join the main company.”
(courtesy Dayton Contemporary Dance Company)
Lamoi Hedrington, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company
“A second company opens your eyes to the life of a dancer. It also gives you time to hone your craft—while taking classes with amazing teachers. DCDC2 helped me find my voice. When I had free time I’d watch the main company rehearse. I saw how they moved and interacted with each other, and I knew this was the place I wanted to be.”
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Beloved by ballet fans for her lucid technique and onstage effervescence, by her Instagram followers for the deftly curated photos and videos she shares of her glamorous life, and by fangirl Jennifer Garner for all of the above, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston is one of the rare ballet stars who's achieved mainstream fame. A native of Sun Valley, ID, Boylston trained at the Academy of Colorado Ballet and the Harid Conservatory before joining the ABT Studio Company in 2005. She entered the main company as an apprentice in 2006, and attained principal status in 2014. In addition to her successes with ABT, where she dances nearly every major ballerina role, Boylston has served as artistic director of the annual Ballet Sun Valley Festival, which brings high-level performances and classes to her hometown. And speaking of famous Jennifers: Boylston recently appeared as Jennifer Lawrence's dance double in the film Red Sparrow. Catch her onstage with ABT as Manon, Odette/Odile, and Princess Aurora during the company's Metropolitan Opera House season this summer in NYC. —Margaret Fuhrer